Amtrak users, rejoice! Smartphone scans soon to replace paper tickets.

In the New York Times, Brian X. Chen reports on Amtrak's plans to use Apple iPhones as an electronic ticket scanner on several routes, including Boston, MA to Portland, ME, and San Jose, CA, to Sacramento, CA. "By late summer, 1,700 conductors will be using the devices on Amtrak trains across the country," and passengers can choose to print tickets or display a bar code on their smartphone screens for conductors to scan.


  1. I will rejoice, when I’m convinced it will work reliably. I’ve learned the hard way when traveling by air that I always have to have a printed backup with me anyway. :-(

  2. We’ve had something similar on Indian trains for a while; you have your ticket as a PDF on your tablet/smartphone/computer/whatever, and any government-issued ID (say a driver’s license or a voter’s ID), which has been pre-determined as the ID you’ll be using when buying the ticket (online, naturally).

    They just look at the PDF and ID, match it with their own, and you’re on your way!

    So, I guess, America, welcome to Century no. 21!

  3. Awesome. Now how about some wifi in the Southeast? On my last vacation from Ft Lauderdale to Savannah, I was disappointed to discover the wifi is only on trains  in the west. Mostly past the mississippi. There’s no 3G in Georgia people! What am I supposed to do for that last hour?

  4. Up and running here on the Capitol Corridor in CA in the past week, perhaps earlier. Not yet fully integrated: if you buy a ticket at a machine or from an agent, it or he/she will print you a barcode-scannable e-ticket rather than offering you the option of sending it to your phone.

  5. Unwilling to stop at subsidizing Microsoft (by publishing official documents almost exclusively in Microsoft and Adobe formats) the US Federal Government’s incompetence is now also going to subsidize Apple.

    I’m pretty sure an iPhone is not the most cost effective ticket scanner US tax dollars can buy.

  6. I am a monthly-pass rider on Amtrak’s Downeaster (Boston-Portland).  They have been using these scanners for a few months now.  Really, all it does is scan your reservation number — so although you can now print out the ticket at home, all that changes is that they have a faster way of validating that number: a scanner and app instead of a paper-based passenger manifest.  

    The only disadvantage here is that the conductors who know that you’re a regular won’t be able to give you a seat check based on personal recognizance (seriously… 3/4 of the passengers on the morning commute have been there every day for years; since most of the conductors know their name and their stop, it was a nice personal touch to not be asked for your ticket after the first day of each month).  

    Also (IMPORTANT):  you need to get a reservation number BEFORE you board the train — even if you just call the Amtrak number from the platform.  Don’t expect an easy time if your plan is to buy a ticket from the conductor, the system isn’t really geared for that.

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